About the Tahltan People
The Tahltan people have occupied their territories around the upper reaches of the Stikine River in what is now northwestern British Columbia since time immemorial. The relationship between the people and the land, as with many indigenous peoples, is one marked by a deep respect for the land as provider and a strongly held belief that the people are keepers of the land.
The Tahltan belong to the land. This prevailing attitude has led to a symbiotic relationship in which the Tahltan people look to the land for sustenance, guidance and healing.
Traditional Tahltan governance was organized around the family/clan system. All decisions affecting Tahltans were made through meetings and councils, and every Tahltan was allowed to express their views and concerns.
Tahltan culture is intricately woven into all aspects of language, art, governance, law and everyday life.
Our stories and legends preserve our history, and guide our way of relating to all living things. As an example, our stories provide inspiration to talented Tahltan artists, who enshrine our stories into beautiful moccassins, drums, blankets and other valuables. These are just some of the ways in which Tahltan culture is preserved and shared with the world.
Our culture is organized through a matrilinear clan system. This means that crests and inheritance are passed down through the mother. Since time immemorial, this system has provided the basis of Tahltan law and governance. Despite the imposition of a settler society form of government (through the Indian Act), the matrilineal system remains the foundational governing structure of the Tahltan people.
The Tahltan Nation is divided into two clans, the Crow (or Tsesk’iya) and the Wolf (or Ch’ioyone). Each clan is further divided into several family groups. Legends about the Crow and Raven continue to guide the Tahltan people about the best way of living, for example, by the principles of determination, generosity and resourcefulness among others.
Primarily a hunting and trapping people, the Tahltan fostered inter-tribal trade with neighbouring tribes exchanging items such as fish, furs and obsidian, useful for making tools and weapons. The Tahltan people held a significant position in as middlemen in the pre and post-contact trading industry of northern BC. The Stikine River supported trade that took place between coastal nations and interior nations. The first contact with Europeans came in 1838 when Robert Campbell of the Hudson’s Bay Company arrived with intentions on setting up operations in the territory.
In the early 1900s, the Tahltan population was devastated by smallpox, measles, influenza and tuberculosis; diseases introduced by European explorers to which the Tahltan people had no natural immunity. At its lowest point, the Tahltan population numbered under 300 people. This extreme population decrease, coupled with the new enforcement of governmental policies, forced the Tahltan people to leave their established villages sites for a more central location along the Stikine River. The discovery of gold in Yukon supported the creation of a larger village site along the banks of the Stikine River. At the beginning of the 20th century the Tahltan Nation played host to over 5,000 potential prospectors, as their village became an official stopping point on the river way to the Klondike Gold Rush.